Not long ago, I was introduced to one of the most engrossing games I had ever played called, Dark Souls. The attention to detail in the environment, story, and setting was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Fast forward to the present and those very same developers, From Software, have released Bloodborne. Much to my surprise, it didn’t take long to be convinced Bloodborne was a game that can be compared on the same levels as Dark Souls. Best experienced with the less you know, Bloodborne will be an exhilarating journey you will never forget.
Bloodborne is an action role-playing game set in the gothic city of Yharnam. The game begins with the player character on a hospital bed ready for a blood transfusion administered by a mysterious old man. Your character soon awakens in the city of Yharnam as a hunter on “The Night of the Hunt,” while also being directed to seek the “Paleblood,” presumably to end the horrors brought about the city’s ghastly state. With a citywide blood pandemic transforming the infected into monstrous beasts, the player’s journey is filled with great peril.
The setting of Bloodborne is arguably the strongest in the “Souls” series. Thick with incredible atmosphere, the game never loses its focus. Background ramblings of deranged citizens and blood-chilling shrieks of indescribable creatures are on constant display, leaving a sense of despair on par with the best of horror games. However, there was a disappointing amount of NPC quest development. The NPCs in the game are excellent and their stories interesting, but there could have been more encounters to flesh out each character. The strong, Lovecraftian overtones in the lore of Bloodborne is marvelous, and it left me desperately craving much more than what was given; a true indication of how well crafted this setting really was.
One of strongest elements to the original Dark Souls was its masterful level design. Bloodborne continues this excellence with impressive level design of its own. Weaved together as opposed to linear paths, there always feels like there is a corner or path left unexplored, and believe me, there are plenty of hidden areas in the game. There is nothing like that feeling of relief from an unlocked shortcut, after an hour of treacherous exploration.
Combat is much improved this time around. Veterans of previous Souls games will experience a bit of a transitioning phase in play style. With shields being replaced by guns, armor exchanged for suave, Victorian garbs, and the ability to temporarily regain lost health with successful weapon strikes, combat shifts to a more offensive style than a defensive one. I’ll admit I struggled in the opening section of the game, until I reconditioned myself into playing a more aggressive fighting style. Unsure how well gunplay can be integrated into melee action, it didn’t take long to understand the thrill of perfectly timing a shot just as an enemies strikes, triggering a stun animation, and opening an opportunity to perform a devastating “visceral attack.”
Populated with more enemies than ever, there is little room to run, so often times the better strategy is to strike first. This aggressive approach is made easier by the fact all actions drain considerably less stamina and dodging is more responsive, allowing for improved combat flow. Coupled with improved enemy AI and lack of ridiculous player movement tracking, death at the hands of enemies never felt unfair or cheap. Bloodborne’s combat is easily the most exhilarating to come out of a From Software game to date.
Another enjoyable aspect to combat is the ability of every melee weapon to transform into an entirely new weapon, adding tremendous variety. Each transformation looks and feels badass as a sword turns into a giant hammer or cane turns into a whip. Each weapon state has its own moveset, offering multiple strategies for every encounter. Weapons can also be equipped with “Blood Gems” that add various stat values such as increasing physical damage, adding elemental damage, or reducing stamina consumption. I really enjoyed obsessively manipulating my collection of Blood Gems to best suit each weapon.
As a veteran to previous Souls games, I expected these streamlined mechanics, especially the health regain system, to make the game considerably easier, but that wasn’t always true. In fact, many of the games epic boss battles halted me for hours or even days in some cases, instilling a sense of tremendous accomplishment when I finally conquered my obstacle. Diverse with intimidating creatures that I couldn’t possibly describe, most bosses successfully capture that impossible-to-defeat impression upon an initial encounter. Finally defeating these foes feels as emotionally rewarding as ever (even though the in game rewards aren’t always great). Unfortunately, the camera often presents itself as an obstacle during these enormous, frantic battles.
As amazing as Bloodborne can be there are no shortages of flaws. One of the biggest is the loadtime between deaths and hub world/main world transitioning. Much of your time will be spent staring at a black screen with “Bloodborne” pasted on it. There will be a patch due out very soon to cut down on loadtimes, so hopefully it will no longer be a concern. The HUD could have been a little bigger, and the inventory menu blends together, mostly in regards to runes, which act in a similar fashion to rings in previous Souls games. When finding loot scattered throughout the world, there is a good chance it will only be a common consumable item; I really wish there were more unique items, like weapons or armor, discovered this way.
A new feature added to Bloodborne is in the form of Chalice Dungeons. Chalice Dungeons are a series of randomly constructed areas players can explore that changes each time one is built. These dungeons contain exclusive enemies and bosses as well. The concept sounds great in theory, but ultimately I found this portion of the game to be lackluster. When dungeon crawling, part of the enjoyment is finding interesting and useful loot. Oftentimes the big loot reveal is nothing more than additional consumable items used to make even more Chalice Dungeons. If you think I’m going to get excited over some Tomb Mold, you would be sadly mistaken. There are some unique items that can only be acquired in later, more difficult dungeons, but people will most likely become disinterested after seeing the exact same rooms over and over before they get to that point. It’s a concept that has potential, but doesn’t quite deliver.
The best looking game From Software has to offer, but it’s hardly a true advancement in next-gen graphics. What Bloodborne does offer is an incredibly atmospheric and dark setting that will put many modern horror games to shame.
Outstanding voice acting continuing the familiar creepiness found in other Souls games. The lingering, background cries of creatures more disturbing than the last strongly enhance the atmosphere. The music, used sparingly for added dramatic effect, reaches epic proportions during boss battles.
It’s impossible not to compare Bloodborne to the previous games From Software has made due to the many gameplay similarities. With those comparison in mind, Bloodborne is absolutely one of the best games From Software has to offer, and in some aspects, surpasses even the original Dark Souls. In a trend of disappointing exclusives, Bloodborne certainly breaks the mold, by being one of the finest games Playstation 4 has to offer.
Style – Single-player/Co-op, Action RPG
Publisher – Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer – From Software, SCE Japan Studio
Release – March 2015
In a trend of disappointing exclusives, Bloodborne certainly breaks the mold, by being one of the finest games Playstation 4 has to offer.